The Flashback Series by Terri L. Powers

Flashback To The Mosquito – Book 2 in the Flashback series available on Createspace for Kindle and for Paperback.


Use The Past To Alter The Future

Good cop skills and a freaky ability to see into the past – the recipe for a great partnership.

Visitors are dying to get out of the Emerald City and rebellious Seattle detective, Nate Cliffton, must team again with his time-traveling friend John Carpenter, to face an elusive serial killer who targets tourists.

John sees only the killer’s profile during one flashback, so Nate resorts to the old-fashioned way of catching criminals, but he keeps coming up short. Pushing John to try again, Nate faces one of his biggest fears–having a friend in danger because of his actions. Throw in the complications of a three-pronged government response, a fresh hook-up, and new partner and Nate’s tapped out.

For John it’s a matter of staying alive. For Nate it’s hunting down a murderer before another out-of-towner is found floating in Puget Sound.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Flashback To The Dragon – Book 1 in the Flashback series available on and Barnes&

Use The Past To Alter The FutureAmazonFlashback

A serial killer is loose in the city of Seattle stalking women in the downtown area near Elliott Bay. Detective Nate Cliffton is assigned to the Monroe case, tagged with that name by the newspapers because the victims all look like 1950’s pin-up models. Nate is relentless in his hunt for this smart killer who keeps eluding police to fulfill his bloodlust.

Meanwhile, John Carpenter’s peaceful life is changed forever following a terrible car accident. Awakening from a coma, John now has an ability to see events from the past – to flashback. During one such flashback into the past, John sees a distinctive tattoo when he witnesses a murder in an alleyway near Pike Place Market. Who can he trust? He certainly doesn’t want to involve his family, so he turns to Nate. Nate is skeptical of John’s newly acquired ability at first. Will the detective believe him, or will John become the number one suspect in the investigation into the brutal crime?

When John sees the tattoo for a second time in another flashback, Nate must learn to use the past to alter the future. Another woman will die if the killer is not stopped. The clock is ticking. John must learn to accept his gift, and then learn to use it as he becomes mixed up in the hunt for a serial killer. Will John Carpenter end up a hero, or will he end up dead?


Flashback To Baker Lake – Book 3 in the Flashback series. Read an excerpt, below:

Chapter 1
An Evening in May

This moment in time. These precious few hours. A period of exquisite passion, made more poignant by the days, no, the weeks of planning and risk assessment. Quickly fleeting, the minutes trickle down like sand in an hourglass to the final grains fighting for release.

Lying in a tangle of legs and sheets, he enjoys a brief respite. Lovers for the past few hours, he nuzzles the smooth, sun-kissed shoulder, inhaling an aroma of sweat and youth, an aromatic mixture that flings him back to earlier days. He traces a line with fingertip pads along his lover’s silky back following the lumbar curve all the way down to cup each creamy mound; squeeze, before dancing upward again, switching to manicured fingernails, stroking the arm lying between the two of them, drawing sensual circles on the hairless flesh. His fingers continue their light journey along the tanned bicep toward the slender wrists. The tan melts into purple and red as marks begin to show, the flesh raw where the leather straps chafe.

As his fingers find new places to explore he watches the thick eyelashes flutter against a smooth cheek, like a trapped moth beating the glass to escape the heat of a flame. He leans in and slowly draws a wet circle on the exposed pink ear lobe with his tongue. This disrupts the pretense of sleep and eyelashes flick open and the struggles begin anew. He chuckles, enjoying the tightness in his stomach. An electric charge jolting through his core, stirring an arousal – naughty – exciting – so good because it’s so bad.

“It will be easier this time, Tommy.” He promises, repeating the phrase he’s used all evening. Leaning on his left side, he slips on another condom and liberally smears lubrication, the scent of strawberry wafting up to tickle his nose hairs; made more cloying off the heat of two warm bodies. The boy makes senseless sounds, hoarse cries in objection.

Enter. Thrust. Oh God—white lights explode in his brain as the boy’s tightness swallows him. Thrusting harder, finding his rhythm, the boy’s sobs intensify the feeling. Too soon it’s over and he collapses, huffing and purring. He rolls away, lying on his back, eyes closed, feeling the cadence of his heart slow to a beat that matches the twitching of his cock. It’s time.

He rises, moving toward the bathroom, bare feet slapping the wooden floor. Fifteen minutes later he’s showered, dressed, and standing near the bed looking at the boy’s spread-eagle position. The stains on the sheet are proof Tommy’s no longer a virgin. It’s good to be first, having won the toss of a coin.

He ruffles the tousled blond hair. “You were delicious.”

Then his brain clicks to another channel and he’s propelled to the door thinking of tomorrow’s meetings. Down the oaken stairway, out the front door of the cabin hideaway, taking the wooden steps from the porch two at a time into the needle-covered yard, striding to the black Cadillac, barely seen under the fragrant pine canopy where timid moonlight ventures thinly. He arrows toward the rear of the car where his driver waits, holding the door open. Before he is seated, the driver speaks.

“The police radio mentioned a tie-up near town that may cause a delay.”

He slows his momentum, frowning. “Well, if that don’t white wash the chickens. Do the best you can.” He settles into the plush leather confines, allowing the new car aroma and hush of rich Corinthian to seep into his skin, like an IV loaded with sedative. The driver walks around the front of the car and slides in behind the wheel, and puts the car in reverse, slowly backing before navigating in a wide arc forward, rolling up the slight incline to the quiet road where he turns right toward North Cascade Highway which will take them to Interstate Five.

“A pleasant evening, sir?”

He searches the rearview mirror for the steely eyes of the man behind the wheel, smiling. “It was. Thank you.”


Day 1

120 Days Before the Wedding

“John? What team lost Super Bowl XIV?”

Reclining in bed with her knees up, a crossword propped across them, and three plump pillows behind her back, Susan Bishop chews on the end of the pencil in her left hand, a slight frown on a face with too many angles to be classically beautiful but just enough to be striking. Her hair is a mussed golden brown halo with strands that curl and loop around her head.


Lying next to her on his stomach, bedcovers up to his shoulders, and one pillow over his head as if he is Punxsutawney Phil burrowing to avoid his shadow, John Carpenter tries to ignore her.

“You must know this; you watch football every waking hour in the winter and I can’t finish my puzzle without the answer.” She tries again, poking him on the shoulder with the wet eraser and is rewarded with a muffled response from under the padding.

“I know the Seahawks won Super Bowl forty-eight. I wasn’t even born for fourteen; Google it.”

“I can’t Google it; that would be cheating.”

He comes out from under the pillow, his dark-brown hair sticking up in all directions, a slightly messier version of her hairstyle. The crease along his right cheek is from the crumpled sheet beneath him; the crease between bushy eyebrows is from being prodded awake.

“Well someone put a lot of time and effort into gathering all of that information and putting it into a search engine so that you could find it, so I think you should put it to good use. Don’t think of it as cheating, think of it as efficient. Now let me sleep.”

“You can’t honey, remember we are meeting with the caterers at ten. We have to go over menus for the reception and come to some kind of agreement – somewhere between hot dogs and beer, or prime rib and champagne.”

“I like hot dogs and beer.” John flops back down.

“I know sweetie, so do I, but I’m not spilling mustard on the front of the gown I just brought home after paying four installments.”

The wedding plans have been going on for over a year, right after John asked Susan’s father for her hand. This part of the process is easy compared to sitting across from Steven Bishop on only the second time he had met the man. Susan excused herself to give them time to get to know one another. Foregoing a chat about the weather or the Seahawks chances, John had stammered out a proposal that he hoped would be met favorably. Silence followed and stretched on for a moment before Steven spared him from any further discomfort by giving his well wishes and quieting John’s apologies for the outburst by holding up the palm of his hand.

“Sometimes we say what we plan to say with our brain, and sometimes our heart takes over and says what it must, and the brain has to take a back seat”.

John will never forget that profound statement. Appropriate at the time, it spared him from having to say more.

Susan quickly asked John’s sister, Brandy, to be her maid of honor and John convinced his friend, Nate Cliffton, to stand up with him. The wedding is scheduled for the end of summer when the weather can be unpredictable, but beautifully temperate if it’s not raining. John’s goal is to stay out of Susan’s way, help where he can, say yes as much as possible, and smile. Always smile.

“Hey, maybe we could visit the site of Super Bowl XIV for our honeymoon and you could flashback to see the player’s uniforms.”

Susan’s reference to a flashback recalls John’s ability to see moments of history. Something he picked up after being in a near-fatal car crash. He came out of a coma only to discover the unique ability to see events of the past. John cannot change the past or interact with any person, place, or thing, merely watch. Yesterday, the today of the past. It’s gotten him into a little trouble, but he’s been a hero as well.

“That’s a whole new level of cheating.” He rolls over and throws his arm around Susan’s mid-section, covering the puzzle and pulling her towards him. “How about instead of solving a crossword puzzle, we play doctor?”

“John, what about the caterers?”

“We’ve got time for one exam, Nurse Bishop.” Nuzzling the side of Susan’s neck rewards him with a burst of giggles and squeals from the woman he loves.

* * *

Nate Cliffton sits at his desk hunched over yesterday’s crossword puzzle, trying to think of a six-letter word for brusque. Every few seconds he glances toward the door, waiting for his cappuccino and biscotti.

Assigned a partner during the Puget Sound murders, Nate went from lone wolf status after his previous partner left for medical reasons to being shackled with a slightly eccentric Englishman. Detective Pete Cavanaugh arrived in Seattle from Cardiff, Wales, in the United Kingdom by way of a year in the Los Angeles police department where he built up a good reputation as being a meticulous researcher and an organized detective. Pete’s charm and morning treats won Nate over.

Nate skips over fourteen down.


He jerks and swivels his head to the right; getting caught in Captain Frank Bishop’s glare. Nate recovers. Glancing briefly at the meaty fist on the desk inches from Nate’s writing hand, he meets the serious brown eyes and downturned mouth.

“Not doing anything I see.”

“I’m improving my mind.” Nate motions toward the puzzle.

“I want you improving my numbers. We just got a call on a dead body. I’m assigning it to you and your fashionably late partner.” Bishop throws a thin folder in Nate’s “In” box.


Detective Pete Cavanaugh stands nearby wearing a charcoal gray, three-piece suit, with a purple tie and Nate would bet his next paycheck there were matching purple socks on his feet. Pete hands over a cappuccino and biscotti, juggling his tea and a newspaper in one hand and file folders and a novel with a Harry Potter bookmark sticking out of the end of it in the other.

“Good day.” The Welsh vowels make the two words sound like one. “Assignment?” Pete casually puts the newspaper on Nate’s desk and looks to Captain Bishop. The lilt in his voice turns the words into a sing-song and he meets the Captain’s frown with clear hazel eyes and an innocent smile.

“Your partner will fill you in.” Bishop growls and turns to leave.

“If you would be so kind, I beg pardon,” Pete clears his throat and straightens his tie, “But I heard a rumor, sir, in which you might be in the running for Chief.”

Nate glances up in surprise. “Whoa, I hadn’t heard that. Good luck, sir, you’d do a great job.”

Bishop’s lips flatten to form a straight line that could, if you use your imagination, pass for a smile. “Don’t start brown-nosing now, Cliffton, you might mess up your blond coiffure.” Bishop turns and leaves.

“The Captain seems a bit excited this morning. What’s the assignment?” Pete’s eyebrows wiggle in the direction of the file Nate is opening in front of him.

“Hard-nosed bureaucrat” Nate grumbles as he flips through the pages and takes down a few notes. He looks up at Pete, his mouth a straight line.

“Don’t sit down,” Nate rises, grabs the coffee Pete brought in, and leads the way, adding over his shoulder.

“A kid’s body was just found in Baisel Park.”

* * *

Named after the deceased humanitarian Maxwell Baisel, Baisel Park is the scene of many charitable events sponsored by his widow, Kathy; often to raise money to benefit children. The irony is not lost on Nate, who sloshes through the rain, avoiding puddles as much as possible.

“What have we got?” He addresses the uniformed police officer assigned to keep looky-loos out, his badge held forward and slightly down to avoid wet drops.

The officer holds the yellow tape up so Nate and Pete can duck underneath before answering.

“Body of a boy. Nude. Found by a kid shooting baskets.”

“This early in the morning? On a day like today?”

“Said he does it every day before school, no matter the weather. Head toward the bushes over there.” The officer points down a hill, beyond the basketball courts. The rain hits the lights erected around the outer edges of the scene and steam rises off the hot metal to drape men and women working beneath in coats of gossamer white. “It’s a shame.” The officer shakes his head and turns back to face front as the two detectives walk down the slight incline toward the group in crime scene jumpsuits. Nate’s hoping to see Tom Bates face in the group. As they walk nearer, Nate’s favorite forensic medical examiner looks up towards them.

“Hey Tom,” Nate nods and Pete does a little wave.

“Hi Nate, Pete. Going to have to get the body back to my place to tell you much more.”

“Can you guess at TOD?”

“You know us science types, don’t like to guess. But, if I had to, I’d say he’s been dead for 12 to 24 hours based on his body temperature and level of rigor.”

“Do you know how?”

“How did this boy die? No, I’m not even going to guess that. I’ll only say that it probably wasn’t a pleasant experience. I’ll know more later today. Stop by late afternoon.”

Nate and Pete walk the perimeter and talk to the CSI guys and police in the area. So far, they didn’t have an ID. Nate and Pete find the witness sitting with his parents near the basketball courts, a blanket around his shoulders and a large black umbrella keeping the rain off all three of them.

“Do we have to stay here much longer?” Momma lion asks.

“We just have a few questions.” Nate squats in front of the boy. “Out here every morning? That’s some real dedication.”

“I want to be the best.”

Nate chuckles. “I’ll bet you will be. Did you know the boy you found?”

“I didn’t get a good look at him before I ran, but he didn’t look like anyone I know.”

They talk for another minute before Nate tells them to get home and get dry. The boy hadn’t seen anyone or anything unusual prior to stumbling upon the body while chasing a ball. Nate and Pete walk back to the group gathered around near the hedges.

“We got an ID.” A police officer with a computer tablet in his hands walks over toward Nate and Pete. “Fingerprints came back from NAFIS. Tommy Hull. Had his prints in the system for a school identification badge.”

“You got an address along with the name?”


Pete jots down the information as the officer reads it off his screen.

“Ok, we’ll do the notification.” Nate pulls the collar of his Burberry closer around his neck and stares at the activity within the taped area. The rain makes the morning more depressing than if he was back in his office. It also contaminates a crime scene and Nate hopes they can finish soon. He thinks about the dead boy and the circumstances prior to his ending up here. Nate shivers.

* * *

 This moment in time. These precious few hours. So important at the beginning of an investigation.

“Mrs. Hull, could you tell me about the night Tommy disappeared?”

“What good is that going to do now? My boy is dead!” She forcefully throws the words at him, spittle flying after them. It is almost as if this outburst is too much effort as in the next second her face crumbles and she folds in on herself like a deflated beach ball. Nate had just delivered the news that her boy is dead. She thought he was here to tell her they’d found Tommy who had gone missing three days ago. He wishes he was the bearer of good news.

Nate watches her tears as they fall unheeded. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Pete move away down the hallway. Nate gently places his hand atop hers to stop its shaking.

“Help us find Tommy’s killer. No amount of punishment will make up for your loss, but help us bring you closure.”

Pete returns with a glass of water which he gives to Mrs. Hull. Nate sees the effort it takes for her to smile up at Pete. Pete gets all the smiles.

When she’s had a few sips, Nate again brings her around to the topic of the moment and to the day her world shattered.

“I’m a nurse. The three of us have a routine. When Tommy gets out of school, his older brother picks him up and brings him home and he does homework until I arrive at seven. Sometimes Elliott stays for dinner.”

“Elliott is Tommy’s older brother?”

She nods.

“Tommy and Elliott, they got along pretty good?”

“Elliott thinks the world—.” Silence. Teary eyes look at Nate as if he slapped her. Her hand goes to her right cheek and she nibbles on her lower lip. “Elliott thought the world of Tommy.” She begins again using the past tense.

“Does Elliott live here as well?” Nate asks the question quietly, not wishing to alarm her and feeling guilty somehow about the look on her face.

“No he has his own place, although he’s here most weekends and some nights. Never seems to have enough groceries.” She gives a wry smile and shakes her head.

“Is that where Elliott is now? At his place?”

“I … I’m not sure.” Her eyes lose focus as if she doesn’t know what day it is or what time. Then she resumes her reply. “I suppose so. He has school and I think …” She drifts off again. Nate wonders where she is; probably somewhere where pain doesn’t exist and her youngest boy is still alive. Nate glances over his shoulder at Pete.

“May I have his address, Mrs. Hull?” Pete dutifully asks.

She snaps back to the living room and sharply looks at Nate’s partner as if he appeared out of nowhere. When she responds, he jots down Elliott’s address in his ever-present notebook. When Nate asks her a couple more questions, Pete adds to the address with the names of Tommy’s friends as well as any kids with which Elliott might have hung out.

Nate’s eyes wander around the room, taking in the neat appearance, worn but clean furniture, a cheap coffee table made out of wood laminate and matching end tables. Down the hallway where Pete disappeared earlier is the kitchen. Nate can just see the refrigerator, white, with handmade pictures hanging from colorful magnets. Nate’s eyes return to the mother. Her face is plain and careworn with lines around her mouth to indicate she smiled a lot in the past. She’s not smiling now. “How old is Elliott, Mrs. Hull?”

“He turned twenty-one three months ago.”

“Same father for both boys?”

“Yes,” she hesitates, plucking at the fabric of her slacks. “When I got pregnant with Tommy, Elliott was grown, twelve-years-old. My husband wanted me to get rid of Tommy. Abort the baby. Take care of it, he said, it’s either that baby or me.” Mrs. Hull rewards Nate with a shining smile. “I never once regretted the decision to keep my baby.”

Nate asks, “Your ex-, I take it ex-husband’s name?” Pete jots down her response. Nate thanks her when they are done and promises to keep in touch.

“Are you working with the other policeman?”

Nate looks at her, waiting for more information.

“The one that was working Tommy’s case.”

“Oh, no ma’am. You will be working with Detective Cavanaugh and myself from here on.”

Nate and Pete say goodbye after Mrs. Hull calls a neighbor to come stay with her. They tell her that their next stop is Elliott’s and if he’s home, they will send him over. When they are buckled in their car Nate says, “I want to talk to Elliott. See how long he stuck around the night Tommy disappeared. Feel him out. Basically see if I have any suspicions about him. Check his alibi.”

* * *

 “This is the place.” Nate parks and they get out of the car and approach the apartment building at the address Mrs. Hull gave for her son. Nate in front and Pete following a short distance, carefully navigating the walkway. Climbing stairs to the second floor, Nate knocks on the door. He looks at the worn carpet in the hallway, almost bare in spots, but there is no odor of onions or any mustiness. Nate again raps his knuckles on the wooden frame, listening for sounds on the other side of the door. After several seconds he hears shuffling and the sound of something toppling over before silence settles again and he imagines someone looking through the peephole. Nate smiles obligingly at the small circle in the center of the door.

“Who is it?” A muffled voice behind the wooden door.

“Police. We’d like to talk to you.” Nate reaches in his pocket for his badge and Pete does the same. Both men hold them up level with the peep-hole. Click, chunk. The locks come off and the door slowly swings inward. Half of a sleepy face looks out at them.

“Elliott Hull? May we come in?”

Nate studies the young man holding the door open for them. His head is down, hair in his eyes; face puffy from either sleep or crying or a combination of the two. Elliott appears to be about five feet six or seven inches tall, slender, with rounded shoulders most likely due to the tragedy that has befallen his family.

Walking into the apartment, Nate is surprised. Small and old, yes, but the place is clean and smells of lemons. Elliott has decorated with inexpensive yet classic furnishings and local artwork. Plenty of morning sunshine would come through the spotless windows if only the Seattle rain would subside. A stool by the couch is over on its side and Nate guesses that it just happened.

“Elliott, my name is Detective Cliffton; this is my partner, Detective Cavanaugh. We were just talking to your mother. Have you heard from her?”

The young man looks at him confused through eyes similar to his mom’s. He scratches his head and looks around.

“I don’t know.” He mumbles moving to the kitchen table where his phone rests on a charger.

Nate and Pete wait as he listens to a voicemail message. He puts the phone down and looks at Nate.

“I’d like to talk to you about your brother.” Nate watches the emotions fight for control on Elliott’s face.

Elliott waves Nate and Pete toward the couch where they settle and Elliott lowers himself into the chair opposite, righting the stool.

“Would either of you like some tea?”

Pete clears his throat, “I wouldn’t mind a spot of.” Nate declines and must wait for Elliott to return from the kitchen.

“I’m sorry for your loss. You mother said it was okay for us to talk to you. She wants you to come over when we’re done.”

Elliott nods, frowning. “So Tommy—Tommy’s; you know for sure that it was Tommy you found?”

“Yes son, he’s been identified. I’d like to talk to you about the last time you saw Tommy. I understand that was three days ago.”

Elliott jerks his head up and down then finds his voice. “I picked him up from school and drove him straight home. I had a shift at the garage so I needed to get him home and leave. My mom called me at work asking if I’d taken Tommy with me. When I said no she wanted me to come to the house. When I got there a police car was parked in front.”

“Did you notice anything unusual that day or the days leading up? Any strange cars or people you didn’t know maybe that paid a little too much attention to you or your brother.”

Elliott scowls, “No, nothing. I didn’t see anything that would have indicated something was going to happen to him. It was just another day.”

“Did he have any enemies, or anyone that made him feel uncomfortable?”

“Tommy’s …” Elliott’s voice fades. He’s forgotten the cup in his hand as it tips towards his lap, dangerously close to spilling over. Nate watches as Elliott absently twirls a lock of hair on his forehead. The faraway look in his eyes clears as quickly as it came on when a drop of hot tea hits his lap. He rights the cup and looks at the two detectives a pink flush rising in his cheeks. “Tommy was a good boy. He didn’t have any enemies and he never talked to me about anyone bothering him.”

Nate can see the pain on Elliott’s face. “How are you holding up?”

The quiet question brings on tears as they finally form and spill out and over his lashes, down his cheeks. Absently Elliott wipes his face with the back of his hand. “I’ve been ok. I haven’t been to school since the night he disappeared. Couldn’t concentrate. I’ve just been working and sleeping, trying to keep going.”

“Maybe you can get an extension, there’s only a few weeks of school left.” Elliott shrugs so Nate continues. “You and Tommy got along good?”

“I loved him. He was my world.”

“Have you talked to anyone, a counselor, pastor?

“I haven’t. Have I needed to? Well I guess time will tell. If I don’t get through the mourning then I guess I should have talked to someone.”

The tone and the choice of words send a chill through Nate. He reaches into the inside pocket of his suit jacket for a card with his contact information and holds it out to Elliott between his forefinger and middle finger, eyes on the young man’s face. There is an emotion that Nate sees in the young man’s eyes that he struggles to read.

“Elliott, if you ever need to talk. Or if you think of anything that might help us, will you call me? Can you do that?”

“Sure thing Detective.”

Pete returns his cup to the kitchen and meets Nate at the front door and they leave.

“There’s something that young man isn’t telling us,” Pete says as he fastens his seatbelt and puts away his notepad.

“I know what you mean. Could be nothing, maybe. I mean, after all, he just found out that his missing brother is now his dead one.” But my spidey senses are tingling.

* * *

Back at their office building they enter and descend a flight of stairs to the morgue, getting off the elevator and pushing open the double doors opposite. Grabbing masks on the way to the gurney where Tom Bates stands, Nate positions himself opposite Tom; Pete stands behind with his notepad ready. Nate looks at the shrouded mound that is smaller in size than what he is used to dealing with.

“You’re too early.” Tom works quickly on the precious remains of Tommy Hull while chastising his friend. Although muffled by a mask, the sound of his voice pings off the tile walls and floor.

“Hey, you’re the miracle man. What have you got so far?”

Tom puts a finger to his lips to indicate silence, and then turns on the recorder. “My name is Dr. Thomas Bates performing the autopsy of Thomas, Tommy, Hull, Caucasian male. This post-mortem examination will be performed under the authorization of the Office of County Medical Examiner, State of Washington. We have a healthy, well-fed, active nine year old boy. There is a crescent-shaped scar on the lower right calf that looks to be several years old. There is a scar on his upper right shoulder that also is older.”

Tom gently turns the boy’s head. “There are bruises and contusions on the left side of his face and bruises on his forearms, possibly defensive wounds or indications of a struggle anti-mortem.” Tom closely examines the trachea, gently probing with rubber fingers. He feels along the jaw line and around the ears, making his way to the frontal plate of Tommy’s skull. Then he examines the eyes—once and then again. He examines the teeth and inside of Tommy’s mouth, all while speaking softly into the microphone to record his observations. Then he moves down the table, head bent and continues talking in a golf-green half-whisper.

“There is bruising and abrasions on both wrists and ankles; almost a rash like you would have from rug burn or chafing. It appears the victim was constrained.”

Tom removes the bags in which the boys hands are incased and begins scraping under the nails and bagging and tagging the traces. He slips one slide under the lens of the microscope. “These appear to be cotton fibers found under the victim’s nails, similar to what you find in Egyptian cotton sheets. Nice quality, but not unique.”

Tom flags down an intern and the two roll the body over so that the boy is face down. “There is tearing and bruising around the anus.”

“Fuck!—I’m sorry.” Nate’s eyes flick to the recorder.

“With me in the examination room are Detectives Nate Cliffton and Pete Cavanaugh of the Seattle Police Department, assigned to the case.” Tom shakes his head and Nate rolls his eyes. “I will continue with the examination.” Tom uses a large plastic spatula to scrape up a substance. He places it on a microscope slide, but before he tags it he sniffs. “Strawberry. Further testing on trace evidence and x-rays are scheduled for this afternoon.” The intern and Tom repeat the process, flipping the boy on his back.

Tom carefully makes a ‘Y’ incision starting from Tommy’s right shoulder continuing from his left and straight down his abdomen. Nate feels a stinging sensation in his nose and he blinks twice before focusing again as Tom removes the heart, liver, stomach and kidneys, weighing and cataloging each.

“There is minimum stomach content indicating the subject had eaten several hours prior to death.”

When Tom is finished slicing and tagging he faces the recording one final time.

“Indications in the pupils of the eyes and under the skin appear to support asphyxiation by strangulation. There is petechial hemorrhaging to indicate the killer tightened and loosened his grip over a period of time. The bruises around the throat support this finding. Further analysis of tissue samples and a toxicology report are necessary in order to complete my findings.” Tom turns off the recorder, pulls his mask down around his neck, and turns to Nate.

“I’ll know more by tomorrow. What I can tell you right now is the boy was bound, abused, and tortured. He died at least eight to twelve hours ago from a series of strangulations.”

Nate feels his lungs collapse as he exhales the breath he’s been holding.

“Series of strangulations? What the hell does that mean?”

Tom leans over the body. “I’ll give you one version of the scenario. The killer played with him for a while. Someone choked him until he passed out, waited for him to revive, and then choked him again.” Tom lifts the lid of the boy’s right eye. “See the hemorrhaging? It was done over a period of time and the marks on his neck were made with gloved hands, but there are several different prints to indicate the killer removed and changed grips several times. Need I go on?”

Nate shakes his head no.

Tom replaces the sheet on the boy and faces the detectives. “I’m surprised there wasn’t already an investigation into Tommy’s disappearance prior to you two getting the call about his body.”

“Bishop gave it to Pete and I this morning with a paper-thin file. Nothing referred to an on-going investigation. But Mrs. Hull and Tommy’s older brother confirmed police were called in for his disappearance.”

“So, we’re looking for a strawberry fan, who likes to lie on thousand-thread count sheets, and favors young boys.” Pete summarizes, looking up from his notepad.

“And someone who is sadistic enough to play God as he’s killing them.” Tom inserts.

Nate sighs as if the weight of the case is exhausting. “God some days I hate my job.”

* * *

Mumford Edward Hurlburton III, Eddie to his constituents, at fifty-one is the youngest in the field of Republican candidates considering the run for Presidency. Currently a U.S. Congressman, he stands for baseball, apple pie, and the American way of life. Eddie’s good looks and forward-thinking—using social media to steer voters toward his issues, skills that others in his party lack—will propel him to the front. With chemically-enhanced brown hair, crinkles at the outer corners of his brown eyes, trim body, and six-five frame, he can pass for almost half his age. And his secret weapon, a smile that will brighten any billboard. He married Mildred Blanchard twenty-five years ago and beget two children, daughters Lynette and Matilda. He is an exemplary example of what America would look like if everyone went to church, believed in the Lord, and followed the Hurlburton’s example of Christian living. Amen brothers and sisters.

Mildred has been vying for the White House ever since her husband was an up and coming attorney with powerful friends. She dresses the part and delivers her lines as well as any Oscar winner in Hollywood. Striking her given name, Mildred, because it puts lunch lady shoes and a hairnet in her head, she takes a name more benefitting a respectful First Lady, Molly. “Mildred is such a stuffy name; it’s so put on, unlike me.” She says whenever anyone forgets and calls her by her given name. “Please call me Molly.” Both girls were groomed for the spotlight from an early age, either as contestants in beauty contests, or as members of Science Olympiad and school forensics clubs. They each know two languages—Lynette, Spanish and French; Matilda, German and Japanese—and both are in ballet, swimming, creative writing, and horseback riding.

On this late afternoon, Eddie is in a car headed to the offices of one of his biggest financial backers, Desmond Gravosso. Eddie and his campaign manager know that tonight’s meeting could turn the tide in the direction that is needed for his upward movement although he may have to bend a little and push some things aside to get the deal Gravosso wants.

“Sir, Mr. Gravosso’s son, Tristano, is playing soccer. His team won the division trophy this past weekend.” Evan Powell, campaign manager, aide, right-hand man, and friend has been with Eddie since college.

“Tristano, huh, pretty good soccer player?

“Got the game winning goal in their last match; he was voted team captain second year in a row.”

“Thank you, Evan, I’ll remember that.”

As they pull up in front of the Gravosso office building, Eddie asks Evan “Is there a proposal on the table to help Gravosso with his project that won’t make it look like I caved into greed?”

“There is a way to get around it if we piggyback the proposal onto the Republican economic bill that is going through the House right now. Make it look like it would be good for sustainability, a way to build for the future.”

“Well, if that don’t whitewash the chickens. I like it, let’s go with that. Make sure I’m meeting with the Representative supporting the bill before the week is up.”




















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